Q: How do I know if my child’s school is safe?
A. Many factors contribute to the safety of a school. Those factors can be broadly categorized as those that are related to the physical safety and security of the school and those that are related to the overall school climate or learning environment. There are many questions you can ask:
- First, does your child’s school limit access to the building and have a consistently followed protocol for visitors?
- Does the protocol require all visitors to sign in and out; utilize a visitor identification system and train all school staff to challenge visitors not identified when they see them in hallways? School safety also includes requirements for screening and identifying volunteers. Parents often assume everyone recognizes them as a parent of a child in the building but it is important for all visitors and volunteers to follow procedures for the safety of the students.
Schools also are required by state law to have emergency plans. Your children may come home and shared the latest drill that they practiced related to emergency response.
Here are some terms you and your child should know:
- A lockout (or whatever term is used by your school and the community emergency responders) is a procedure used to secure the building in a heightened state of security where a threat outside the school or in the neighborhood requires students to be brought inside and doors to be locked.
- A lockdown procedure may occur when a danger is perceived that threatens the inside and occupants of the building.
- An evacuation is practiced for a danger within the building such as a fire or chemical spill that requires moving occupants to a safe location.
- Shelter-in-place may be utilized for weather or other emergencies where occupants must remain in the building for an extended period of time.
Parents can help by knowing the terms for emergency actions at your child’s school; how parents will be notified in case of a real emergency; and what the procedures/policies are for release and/or reunification of students with parents after an emergency. Parents should also be diligent about updating all emergency contact information for your child: cell phone numbers, work or home number changes as well as who is authorized to pick up your child in case of an emergency.
With regard to school climate, many schools are utilizing “climate surveys” to gauge students’ perceptions of safety in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom and outside areas as well as traveling to and from school. Some schools also survey staff and parents about their perceptions of safety. These climate survey results can assist schools in recognizing issues of bullying/harassment; substance abuse; the possibility of weapons, gang activity or other challenges to the safety of students. Evidenced based programs and practices – those that have research supporting their effectiveness – can then be utilized to tackle concerns identified by students, staff and parents.
Most importantly, we encourage you to talk with your school principal if you have questions about safety, as each school will have its own specific processes and procedures. Parents are also encouraged to express any concerns they might have. Remember, schools are one of the safest places your child spends time each day. Schools work hard to maintain that high level of safety and you as a parent can help, too.
EdNews Parent’s safe schools resources